Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Becoming One With The World - by Chetan Bhagat

This is another inspiring speech delivered by Chetan Bhagat at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit Organized in Delhi. To me, these are the thoughts that should lead our country stepping onto the global scenario. I sincerely wish for a changeover at the helm of political affairs - from being power mongers to homogenous economic development seekers across the country - thats what I/we want.

The speech.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at the leadership summit – the first of its kind for me.

I am no leader. At best, I am a dreamer with perseverance to make dreams come true. As I have made my own dreams come true already, I am tempted to think we can make my country’s dreams come true. And that is why I am here.

Before we become one with the world we have to become one with ourselves. If we get our own house in order we don’t have to make an effort to be one with the world. The world will want to be one with us. Everyone wants to be friends with happy, rich, thriving neighbors. Nobody wants a family festered with disputes.

A lot is wrong in my country. There are too many differences. The question is not who we blame for this. The question is how do we fix it? Because to do anything great, you have to become one first. Two generations ago, our forefathers came together to win us Independence. It isn’t like we didn’t have disputes then. Religion, caste, community have existed for centuries. But Gandhi brought them all together for a greater cause – to get the country free.

Today, we have another greater cause. To get India its rightful place in the world. To see India the way the younger generation wants to see it. To make India a prosperous, developed country, where not only the spirit of patriotism, but also the standard of living is high. Where anyone with the talent, drive and hard work alone has the ability to make it. Where people don’t ask where you come from, but where you are going. We all know that India, as we have all dreamt of that India.There is a lot required to be done for this, and it doesn’t just start and end by blaming politicians. For in a democracy, we elect the politicians. If our thinking changes, our voting will change and the politicians will change. And since I have made a nation that didn’t read, read, do I believe people’s thinking can be changed.

To me there are 3 main areas where I think we need to change our thinking – leaders included. And I’m not just saying we need to do it because it is morally right/ ethically correct/ or because it sounds nice at a conference. We need to do it as it make sense from an incentives point of view. These three areas are changing the politics of differences to the politics of similarity, looking down on elitism and the role of English.

The first mindset change required is to change the politics of differences to the politics of similarity. I’ve been studying young people in India, not just in big cities but across India for the last five years.They are the bulk of the population – the bulk of our voter bank. Yet, what they are looking for is not what politicians are pitching. It is not too different from the old school Bollywood where they think item numbers, big budgets and tested formulas work while the biggest hits of the year could be Rock On and Jaane Tu. Yes, times have changed.

Here is what the politicians are pitching – old fashioned patriotism, defending traditions, being the torchbearer of communities, caste and religion. Here is what the youth wants – better colleges, better jobs, better role models. Compared to the talent pool, the number of good college seats are very limited. Same for good jobs. These wants are the biggest similarity that we all share. We all want the same things – progress. I see a huge disconnect in the political strategies of existing politicians vs. what could work for the new voters. I think broad based infrastructure and economic development will satisfy the young generation’s needs. It isn’t an easy goal to attain – but it is the great cause that can unite us.

Today a dynamic politician who takes this cause can achieve a far greater success than any regional politician. And the slot is waiting to be taken. Another aspect required to convert the politics of differences to the politics of similarities is a strong moderate voice. When someone tries to divide us, people from the same community as the divider have to stand up against him. If person A is saying Non-Marathis should be attacked, then some Marathis need to stand up and say person A is talking nonsense. If a Muslim commits terrorist attack, other Muslims should stand up and condemn it, as Hindus are going to condemn it anyway. This moderate voice is sorely missing but is critical in keeping the country together. And the youth want to keep it together, as we want to be remembered as the generation who took India forward, not the one that cut India into two dozen pieces.

I hate telling people what to do, but the media does have a role in this. I agree that media is a business and TRPs matter above anything else. However, there are ethics in every business. Doctors make money off sick people, but it doesn’t mean they keep people sick and not heal them. If you find a moderate voice, highlight it as soon as a divisive voice appears. And don’t take sides, argue or debate it. Don’t validate the ridiculous. Focus on the greater cause.

The second mindset we need to change is that of elitism. From my early childhood days, to college, to professional and business life, and now in the publishing and entertainment circles, I have noticed a peculiar Indian habit of elitism. Maybe it is hard to achieve anything in India. But the moment any person becomes even moderately successful, educated, rich, famous, talented or even develops a fine taste, they consider themselves different from the rest. They begin to move in circles where the common people and their tastes are looked down upon. This means a large chunk of our most qualified, experienced, connected and influential people prefer to live air-conditioned lives in their bubble of like minded people. Naive people who elect stupid politicians – that is the bottomline for all Indian problems, and they want nothing to do with it. But tell me, if the thinking of the common people has to be changed, who is going to change it? What is the point of discussing solutions to Indian problems if there is no buy-in from the common man? Just because it feels good to be around like-minded, intelligent people? What is the use of this intelligence?

If you switch on the TV, seventy percent of the time you will see Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The reason is the media is centered in these cities. However, ninety percent of India is not this. Unless we represent these people properly, how will these people ever come with us? Again, I am not making these points as a moral appeal. I think understanding India and being inclusive makes massive business sense. And trust me, it doesn’t take any coolness or trendiness away from you if you do it right. Look at me, I am the mass-iest English author ever invented in India. My books sell on railway stations and next to atta in Big Bazaar. I have an Indian publisher who operates from the bylanes of Darya Ganj. And yet, on orkut the most common words associated with my name are coolness and awesomeness – tags given by my wonderful readers. I think it is cooler to know how people think in the streets of Indore and Raipur than who’s walking the ramp in South Mumbai. You may have planned your next vacation abroad, but have you visited a small town lately? Have you shown your kids what the real India is like? Don’t you think they will need to know that as they grow up and enter the workforce. Yes, I want people to look down on elitism and develop a culture of inclusiveness. If you are educated, educate others. If you have good taste, improve others taste rather than calling theirs bad.

The last aspect where we need to change our thinking is our attitude to English. We have to embrace English like never before. Not England, but English. This point may sound contradictory to my previous one, but I am not talking about confining English to the classes, but really taking it to the grassroot level. English and Hindi can co-exist. Hindi is the mother and English is the wife. It is possible to love them both. In small towns, districts and even villages – we need to spread English. India already has a headstart as so many Indians speak English and we don’t have to get expat teachers like China does. But we must not confuse patriotism with the skills one needs to compete in the real world. If you are making an effort to start a school where none existed, why not give the people what will help them most. I can teach a villager geometry and physics in Hindi, but frankly when he goes to look for a job he is going to find that education useless. English will get him a job.

Yes, I know some may say what will happen to Hindi and our traditional cultures. I want to ask these people to pull their kids out of English medium schools and then talk. If you go to small towns, English teaching classes are the biggest draw. There is massive demand for something that will improve people’s lives. I have no special soft spot for this language, but the fact is it works in the world of today. And if more English helps spread prosperity evenly across the country, trust me we will preserve our culture a lot better than a nation that can barely feed its people.

We are all passionate about making India better, so we can discuss this forever. But today I wanted to leave you with just three thoughts – politics of similarities, less elitism and more English that we need to build consensus on. If you agree with me, please do whatever you can in your capacity to make the consensus happen. It could be just a discussion with all your friends, or spreading these thoughts in a broader manner, if you have the means and power to do so. For the fact that we are sitting in this wonderful venue means our country has been kind to us. Let’s see what we can give back to our nation.

For more of Chetan Bhagat visit his Official website

Spark - by Chetan Bhagat

With the way things are in the State of Andhra Pradesh, the place where I belong, I feel the below speech by Chetan Bhagat ,given at Symbiosis, Pune, would be some sort of panacea to atleast a certain section of people. It does not have any semblance with the actual state of affairs in the State but it should inspire people to pull their socks and think of remedial actions that will not only heal the wounds but also look at overall improvement.

Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated. The first day in college is one of them. When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

Where do these sparks start? I think we are born with them. My 3-year old twin boys have a million sparks. A little Spiderman toy can make them jump on the bed. They get thrills from creaky swings in the park. A story from daddy gets them excited. They do a daily countdown for birthday party – several months in advance – just for the day they will cut their own birthday cake.

I see students like you, and I still see some sparks. But when I see older people, the spark is difficult to find. That means as we age, the spark fades. People whose spark has faded too much are dull, dejected, aimless and bitter. Remember Kareena in the first half of Jab We Met vs the second half? That is what happens when the spark is lost. So how to save the spark?

Imagine the spark to be a lamp’s flame. The first aspect is nurturing – to give your spark the fuel, continuously. The second is to guard against storms. To nurture, always have goals. It is human nature to strive, improve and achieve full potential. In fact, that is success. It is what is possible for you. It isn’t any external measure – a certain cost to company pay package, a particular car or house.

Most of us are from middle class families. To us, having material landmarks is success and rightly so. When you have grown up where money constraints force everyday choices, financial freedom is a big achievement. But it isn’t the purpose of life. If that was the case, Mr. Ambani would not show up for work. Shah Rukh Khan would stay at home and not dance anymore. Steve Jobs won’t be working hard to make a better iPhone, as he sold Pixar for billions of dollars already. Why do they do it? What makes them come to work everyday? They do it because it makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel alive.

Just getting better from current levels feels good. If you study hard, you can improve your rank. If you make an effort to interact with people, you will do better in interviews. If you practice, your cricket will get better. You may also know that you cannot become Tendulkar, yet. But you can get to the next level. Striving for that next level is important.

Nature designed with a random set of genes and circumstances in which we were born. To be happy, we have to accept it and make the most of nature’s design. Are you? Goals will help you do that. I must add, don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.

There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions. You must have read some quotes – Life is a tough race, it is a marathon or whatever. No, from what I have seen so far, life is one of those races in nursery school, where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same with life, where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.

One last thing about nurturing the spark – don’t take life seriously. One of my yoga teachers used to make students laugh during classes. One student asked him if these jokes would take away something from the yoga practice. The teacher said – don’t be serious, be sincere. This quote has defined my work ever since.

Whether its my writing, my job, my relationships or any of my goals. I get thousands of opinions on my writing everyday. There is heaps of praise, there is intense criticism. If I take it all seriously, how will I write? Or rather, how will I live? Life is not to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? It’s ok, bunk a few classes, goof up a few interviews, fall in love. We are people, not programmed devices.

I’ve told you three things – reasonable goals, balance and not taking it too seriously that will nurture the spark. However, there are four storms in life that will threaten to completely put out the flame. These must be guarded against. These are disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loneliness of purpose.

Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask. You will feel miserable. You will want to quit, like I wanted to when nine publishers rejected my first book. Some IITians kill themselves over low grades – how silly is that? But that is how much failure can hurt you. But it’s life. If challenges could always be overcome, they would cease to be a challenge. And remember – if you are failing at something, that means you are at your limit or potential. And that’s where you want to be.

Disappointment’ s cousin is Frustration, the second storm. Have you ever been frustrated? It happens when things are stuck. This is especially relevant in India. From traffic jams to getting that job you deserve, sometimes things take so long that you don’t know if you chose the right goal. After books, I set the goal of writing for Bollywood, as I thought they needed writers. I am called extremely lucky, but it took me five years to get close to a release. Frustration saps excitement, and turns your initial energy into something negative, making you a bitter person. How did I deal with it? A realistic assessment of the time involved – movies take a long time to make even though they are watched quickly, seeking a certain enjoyment in the process rather than the end result – at least I was learning how to write scripts, having a side plan – I had my third book to write and even something as simple as pleasurable distractions in your life – friends, food, travel can help you overcome it. Remember, nothing is to be taken seriously. Frustration is a sign somewhere, you took it too seriously.

Unfairness – this is hardest to deal with, but unfortunately that is how our country works. People with connections, rich dads, beautiful faces, pedigree find it easier to make it – not just in Bollywood, but everywhere. And sometimes it is just plain luck. There are so few opportunities in India, so many stars need to be aligned for you to make it happen. Merit and hard work is not always linked to achievement in the short term, but the long term correlation is high, and ultimately things do work out. But realize, there will be some people luckier than you. In fact, to have an opportunity to go to college and understand this speech in English means you are pretty damm lucky by Indian standards. Let’s be grateful for what we have and get the strength to accept what we don’t. I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai, but I have two boys who I think are more beautiful than her. It’s ok. Don’t let unfairness kill your spark.

Finally, the last point that can kill your spark is Isolation. As you grow older you will realize you are unique. When you are little, all kids want Ice cream and Spiderman. As you grow older to college, you still are a lot like your friends. But ten years later and you realize you are unique. What you want, what you believe in, what makes you feel, may be different from even the people closest to you. This can create conflict as your goals may not match with others. And you may drop some of them. Basketball captains in college invariably stop playing basketball by the time they have their second child. They give up something that meant so much to them. They do it for their family. But in doing that, the spark dies. Never, ever make that compromise. Love yourself first, and then others.

There you go. I’ve told you the four thunderstorms – disappointment, frustration, unfairness and isolation. You cannot avoid them, as like the monsoon they will come into your life at regular intervals. You just need to keep the raincoat handy to not let the spark die.

I welcome you again to the most wonderful years of your life. If someone gave me the choice to go back in time, I will surely choose college. But I also hope that ten years later as well, your eyes will shine the same way as they do today. That you will Keep the Spark alive, not only through college, but through the next 2,500 weekends. And I hope not just you, but my whole country will keep that spark alive, as we really need it now more than any moment in history. And there is something cool about saying – I come from the land of a billion sparks.

For more of Chetan Bhagat visit his Official website